On Sunday March 27, 2011 So Nakagawa and I skied to the summit of Crowfoot Mountain under a clear, nearly windless spring / winter day. I haven't stood on a peak since I scrambled Midnight Peak way back on October 30 2010! I think that 5 months between peaks has to be some sort of new record for me.
The last few outings I've had to the Rockies have been marked by cloud, wind and dreariness. So and I were both looking forward to a nice spring day with sunshine and melting snow but we knew that this was unlikely. The weather forecast didn't look too bad or too promising. It was calling for possible sunny sky in the morning and flurries in the afternoon. Anytime there's any clouds in the forecast, the Wapta is usually in a whiteout. The drive to the mountains didn't help our confidence in the weather. Calgary was socked in fog and snow and the highways were icy. As we drove into the mountains the weather remained cloudy but much drier. Just as we drove into the Bow Lake parking lot we could see blue sky above the Wapta! Cloudy everywhere BUT the Wapta? This was a good omen!
So had never been up the Bow Canyon before. I warned him about the 'bump' and we set off across the lake. (You gain height and then lose most of it before hitting the canyon...) It's always cold on Bow Lake. We could see a solo skier way ahead of us. I wondered if he was doing Crowfoot Mountain since solo skiers rarely go up to the Wapta but often do Crowfoot. We had harnesses and glacier gear along but we weren't sure if it was 'needed'. Technically you should rope up and take all precautions when venturing onto any glacier, but the glacier on Crowfoot has a tame reputation and with a huge snow pack we weren't planning to rope up unless there was whiteout conditions or no skin track to follow.
[The onion (R) and St. Nicholas (L) vy for attention as we ski up the lake approach.]
[So skies around the back end of the lake. Jimmy Simpson rising to the left here.]
[Gorgeous lighting on Bow Falls.]
[So starts up the infamous Bow Canyon - an interesting terrain feature that many thousands of people ski up each year to access some of the best skiing and touring in Alberta - the Bow Hut and the Wapta Icefield.]
[Following a great skin track up the canyon, the Vulture Glacier ice cap ahead.]
I've gone past the turnoff to Crowfoot many times on my way to the Bow Hut but I still wasn't 100% sure where the proper trail went. We still missed Chic's recommended turnoff and ended up on the right side of the drainage but we were following obvious ski ascent tracks so I continued up on a clear track from a few days previous. The lone skier was out of sight and we weren't following his track anymore.
[Touring above the canyon - now we're off the main track to the Bow Hut and skiing up west slopes towards Crowfoot.]
After a steep grind through the trees we topped out on climber's right of Chic Scott's route. We could see the solo skier again and slowly followed our track as it trended to climber's left to meet up with the track he was on. The day was turning out to be absolutely glorious with sunshine and some wispy cloud and very little wind. We continued to shed layers as we grunted up the pass. Chic mentions that the trip is 14km return but we found out from So's GPS that it's actually 20km which makes more sense. Once we got out of the canyon we pretty much never stopped climbing until the summit - it was a grunt! Most people do not get the pleasure of skiing right to the summit of Crowfoot but we kept our skis on the whole time which was very nice.
[After a steep grunt through trees, we came out on rolling terrain (moraines) and a good skin track to follow. Portal, Thompson and Jimmy Simpson in the bg.]
[The solo skier in front of us is a tiny dot amidst the Crowfoot moraines.]
[The Bow Hut sits nicely under St. Nicholas (L) and the Wapta headwall. I've been there many times - it's one of Canada's premier ski huts.]
[So comes up the skin track with St. Nich (L) and the Onion (R) behind him.]
[Looking up the skin track - still many km's to go at this point.]
[Great views opening up behind us as we climb on the skis, Rhondda, Habel, Baker, Tilly and Thompson (L to R) now visible, now we're also higher than the Onion.]
[A sublime view of Balfour (R) and Lilliput (L) along with the Balfour Glacier. ++]
[Not there yet! Judging by the tracks, most folks going up this way, tag Little Crowfoot, which is also a great objective in this area.]
[Another great shot looking back at So.]
[Balfour - king of the Wapta Icefield - stole the show this day. IMHO it's one of the sexiest peaks around. Looking closely you can see the skin track to the Balfour col snaking up through the heavily crevassed terrain from the Balfour Hut.]
[From L to R, Balfour, Olive, Vulture and Little Crowfoot with some distant Wapta peaks on the right. ++]
[So skis up under a gorgeous panorama of familiar Wapta summits including (L to R), Vulture, Collie, St Nicholas, Little Crowfoot, Ayesha, Rhondda, Habel, Onion, Baker, Tilly, Trapper, Thompson. ++]
[I told you, Balfour steals the show!]
[Finally we near the summit of Crowfoot Mountain! The track is thin, but there are ski tracks right to the apex, which is sort of rare for this wind blasted summit.]
The summit views were sublime with Balfour stealing the show. I'm still proud of summiting that gorgeous mountain! The wind was biting so we didn't spend much time on the summit.
[Clouds are coming in from the south in this summit view looking down the impressive wall that holds the Vulture Glacier on the right and leads to Hector Lake on the left. ++]
[A closer look at the Balfour Glacier, which we used to exit the Wapta via Hector Lake after climbing Lilliput.]
[Mount Hector (R) and Little Hector (L) playing peek-a-boo amongst the clouds.]
[The summit of Balfour is now hidden in clouds, but the skin track up to the Balfour high col is clearly visible snaking up through the heavily crevassed terrain to the pass and under seracs on the east face of the mountain - certainly not a great place to stop for lunch!]
[Looking over the Balfour Glacier, Lilliput and Daly at right.]
[Certainly a nicer day than we expected at the parking lot! So skis along the summit ridge of Crowfoot. ++]
[Zoomed in a bit from the previous shot, showing the exposure down the east face.]
[Looking west at Olive (L), Vulture (C, fg), Collie (C) and St. Nicholas Peak.]
[Click for a labeled panorama of many of the Wapta peaks. ++]
[Looking way down on Hwy #93.]
[The clouds clear to the north over Jimmy Simpson, showing Mistaya and Patterson.]
[A sublime view over The Onion of Rhondda, Habel and Baker (L to R).]
[Sex Ayesha shows up on the left with the Conway Group (Freshfield Icefield) in clouds beyond.]
[A panorama north and east along hwy #93 off the summit, hiding in clouds are peaks like Weed, Observation, Cirque and Dolomite. ++]
[One last Wapta panorama showing Olive, to Thompson. ++]
We skied down in about 4" of powder / facets on a firm supportive layer - very nice and quick! After a brief lunch stop in the warm sun below the sub-peaks of Crowfoot we exited the canyon and had a quick ski across Bow Lake on an icy track.
[Skiing off the thin snow pack near the summit produced some nice new rock scrapes on the ol' ski bases!]
[Dolomite Peak shows up to the east.]
[So does turns down Crowfoot, in front of a gorgeous sea of peaks.]
[More great turns.]
[A last look back at the Crowfoot / Little Crowfoot col before heading down to the canyon exit.]
Our round trip time of 6 hours was pretty speedy but it didn't feel too rushed either. A highly recommended ski trip with gorgeous views and a fast descent.